Sweltering was what one did, back in the early 1950s, when riding in the car in the summer. But automakers were working on making hot-weather car travel less miserable. Packard was the first out with a clumsy and expensive system in 1940 that was later dropped. Meanwhile, Walter P. Chrysler had challenged his engineers to develop an air-conditioning system for the Chrysler Building in New York in the 1930s, and their success led to the establishment of the Airtemp division, which supplied buildings and homes. By 1953, Airtemp air conditioning was available in the automaker’s high-end cars, and this commercial for Chrysler’s De Soto brand helped introduce the miracle technology to the market.
In the video, Fifties Man—the era’s pitchmen all seemed to speak with exactly the same voice, excepting only celebrity spokesman Groucho Marx, who doesn’t appear in this one—first makes a plug for the car’s “PowerFlite fully automatic transmission” and “remarkable De Soto full-time power steering” (full time!) before leading into his explanation of “revolutionary De Soto air conditioning.”
In contrast to modern units, the Airtemp system is largely housed in the trunk. Cool air is pumped into the cabin not through dashboard vents but via an outlet in the rear package shelf, with the air being blown toward the ceiling. Stale, hot air is extracted from the cabin through separate vents in the package shelf, and fresh outside air is taken in through Airtemp-labeled grilles in the rear fenders just aft of the C-pillars. The driver turns the system on via a knob on the dash.
A front-mounted unit integrated into the dash wouldn’t arrive until the following year, with the Nash “All-Weather Eye” system. For 1953, though, Airtemp A/C was one of the features that animated De Soto’s snappy tagline: “De Soto Puts You Ahead Automatically.” Watch the full video below: